The digital notebook market is booming and many of the best cloud storage services now offer note-taking apps of their own. Notable examples include Google Keep, OneNote, Dropbox Paper and Box Notes, the subject of this article.
Developed by Box.com, a cloud developer that caters more to businesses, Box Notes is more of a workplace technology than a note-taking app that will appeal to students, writers and the more obsessive compilers out there. In fact, as we’ll discuss in more detail in the upcoming Box Notes review, it all feels rather barebones overall.
For example, there’s no option to organize notes into notebooks or tag notes for sorting. Box Notes also doesn’t provide a web clipper or let you take voice notes. Unlike Evernote, still the best note-taking app overall, Box Notes just isn’t well suited to comping detailed research.
If you’d like to try it out to form your own opinion, you can sign up for a 10GB free personal cloud storage account with Box and download the desktop client or mobile apps. For those looking at Box as a workplace cloud storage solution, we also have a Box Business review.
Alternatives for Box Notes
Strengths & Weaknesses
- Free 10GB of Box storage
- Desktop application
- Write collaborative notes
- No notebooks
- No note tags
- No drawing tools
- Limited text formatting
Box Notes is a cloud note-taking app that’s a bit like Microsoft OneNote, with the biggest similarity being that it’s integrated with the Box cloud, just as OneNote is integrated with OneDrive.
Also like OneDrive, Box Notes has a desktop client for creating notes that’s available for both Windows and MacOS. You don’t have to work through a web client like you do with Zoho Notebook (read our Zoho Notebook review).
However, browser access is there if you want it through Box’s cloud storage interface. The web version of Box Notes looks and behaves just like the desktop client, and its useful for accessing and editing notes if you’re on a computer that doesn’t belong to you. Additionally, there are also Box for Android and Box for iOS apps that will let you access and take notes.
Sharing with Box Notes
As a company with business users in its target, Box Notes also has some great features for driving workplace collaboration. Up to 20 people can edit the same note at the same time. You can share access to notes via email or by generating a link pointing to that note.
If you’re the account owner or a designated administrator, you can also oversee Box Notes usage from the Box.com admin console, which records instances of newly created, viewed, edited and deleted notes.
Box Notes also creates new versions of notes every 30 seconds. Versioning lets you track note changes and roll back unwanted ones.
Box Notes’ Missing Features
However, while some of its capabilities are useful and we like that Box has developed a desktop client, the tool itself lags far behind the top note-taking apps out there when it comes to overall feature set. The biggest miss is the absence of notebooks to organize your notes like you can with Evernote and OneNote (read our Onenote review).
Also missing is the ability to label notes with custom tags (e.g., “book ideas,” “recipes,” “killer death ray”). That makes it hard to sort through related notes later on; the most you can do with Box Notes is “favorite” a note, which is pretty useless once your notes start piling up, virtually speaking.
Another problem we have with the tool is that Box Notes has a very static approach to note taking. You can’t organize text anywhere you want like you can with OneNote, it doesn’t have many options for rich-text formatting and there are no drawing tools. You can, at least, insert lists (including checklists), images and tables into your notes, but all that feels pretty 2015.
It may seem like we’re piling it on a bit, but we also wish that Box Notes had a web clipper like the best digital notebooks include, letting you automatically create notes out of web pages using a browser extension.
For that matter, Evernote, as you can read about in our Evernote Review, also lets you forward emails automatically to your notebook for preservation and has several excellent IFTTT and Zapier recipes to automate things like creating notes based on social media posts. Box Notes does none of these things.
Box makes some recommendations on limits for creating notes, although there aren’t any hard caps defined and the recommendations are more for performance reasons. Exceeding the recommended limits can supposedly cause serious lag, though we didn’t test that out (because some of us actually had a social life this week, thank you very much).
Some of these recommended limits are pretty lofty, such as 200 pages of text or 500,000 characters for individual notes. Some, on the other hand, are more restrictive, like keeping lists under 100 line items and images under 20MB.
Of course, likely the most impactful Box Notes restriction will be how much cloud storage you have. Up next, we’ll take a look at pricing to give you a better idea of what those limits are.
Box Notes doesn’t cost anything itself but does require that you sign up for a Box cloud storage account. Box will give you 10GB of free storage if you’re a home user, which is enough to hold quite a few notes. However, that space is shared so can disappear quickly if you use the Box cloud storage to stash your documents, videos, photos and other files, too.
Should that be the case, you’ll have to upgrade to Box Personal Pro. At $11.50 a month for just 100GB of storage, that’s one of the worst deals in cloud storage (pCloud, for example, gives you 2TB of storage for $8 a month; read our pCloud review for more on this). The reason for that probably rests in the fact that Box doesn’t really care about the home market, being a business solution first.
On that note, the company does have some enticing business plan options, including unlimited storage for $17.30 per user per month (minimum of three users). Combined with Box Notes, such plans can help streamline collaborative projects for your business.
However, if you’re just looking for a note-taking app for yourself, that’s not likely going to appeal much when there are better deals out there, including unlimited notes with Zoho Notebook for free (read our Zoho Notebook review).
Using Box Notes first requires creating a Box account. The credentials are the same for both the note-taking app and the cloud storage service. Once that’s done, you can install and login into the Box Notes desktop client.
The client is laid out pretty simply, so it shouldn’t take long to learn your way around. Down the left margin are navigation options to switch between your inbox (where all notes are kept), recent notes and favorite notes.
Further down, there are navigation buttons to open settings and view keyboard shortcuts as well.
The first column of the client lists your notes, while the window to the right is a text window, showing you the contents of the note you’ve selected and letting you edit it.
Above the text window, you’ll have access to text formatting options. However, those options are limited to:
- Changing your font color and size
- Bolding, underlining or italicizing text
- Adding checklists, numbered lists and bulleted lists
There’s no option to change your font type, so you comic-sans fans will need to look elsewhere.
Additionally, Box Notes doesn’t let you create freehand drawings or take handwritten notes, even on your smartphone or tablet. That’s a huge disadvantage if you’re trying to diagram processes in your notes (or doodle hilarious caricatures of your boss during project status meetings).
Box Notes doesn’t give you much in the way of organization features, either, as we discussed in earlier. You can “favorite” notes and there’s a search feature, but without a way to tag notes or organize them into notebooks, it’s too easy to lose track of things.
When you create a new note, you can choose from a list of templates to streamline the process some. Template options include “meeting agenda,” “calendar” and “project status.”
Probably our favorite thing about Box Notes is that you can share notes with others via email address or by creating links that anybody can use.
This makes it easy to share meeting notes with others and collaborate on project plans. As mentioned, Box Notes can facilitate up to 20 editors at once. While forty fingers in the pie are a few too many, when mistakes are made you can roll back notes with Box Note’s versioning feature.
There’s also an option to leave comments on notes and tag others in those comments.
The collaboration features add value to the user experience, but overall Box Notes just doesn’t provide enough flexibility to best some other note-taking apps out there. It’s useful for meetings, to be sure, but will most likely only frustrate those who need more creative freedom.
Security & Privacy
As a service that caters more toward businesses than home consumers, with Box you’ll get generally more trustworthy security and privacy than you will with a service like Google Drive (read our Google Drive review to find out why).
While Box stores the encryption keys used to scramble your files on its internal servers, the company doesn’t make money from advertising revenue like Google does. That means your notes aren’t likely to be scanned for keywords and turned into targeted marketing campaigns, which is less a guarantee with Google Keep (read our Google Keep review).
On the other hand, because Box manages the encryption keys, the company could conceivably be forced to comply with government surveillance programs and law-enforcement requests. Box does integrate with Boxcryptor if you want to lock your files down with private encryption, however Boxcryptor won’t work with Box Notes (read our Boxcryptor review).
There aren’t much in the way of capable zero-knowledge note-taking apps on the market that we know about. However, SpiderOak has previously stated it’ll be releasing one in 2018 (read our SpiderOak review) and SafeRoom an be used to encrypt both Evernote and OneNote, providing better security than you’ll get with Box Notes.
Box protects notes in transit between your devices and the cloud using transport-layer security (TLS), which should help fend off any attempts at internet eavesdropping. Server-side, your private thoughts will be encrypted using 256-bit AES, the recommend and most commonly used cryptographic protocol for cloud services.
Box also lets you switch on two-factor authentication (2FA). This feature will require you to enter an additional credential when logging in from an unfamiliar machine. The idea is that it protects you against breaches should your Box password be stolen. The additional credential is a security code sent to your smartphone.
Box Notes isn’t a terrible note-taking app but unless you’re sold on Box Business as your enterprise sync and share solution, there are many better options out there. We say that even with a free 10GB Box cloud storage plan available for personal use.
The problem with Box Notes is that, if you’re a copious note-taker, it’s just too easy to lose track of your thoughts in the digital shuffle without notebooks and tags to keep things straight. We also find that Box Notes just isn’t great for creating dynamic notes without drawing tools and more text formatting options.
If you like the idea of a notes app integrated with your cloud storage, the OneNote and OneDrive combination is a better option, overall, offering far more features and flexibility, in addition to a SafeRoom integration to privately encrypt your notes.
That’s our take, anyway. We welcome your own thoughts on Box Notes in the comments below. Thanks for reading!